Our cat died last weekend. She was 20. She was with us since I was 36 and Shelley 39, two whole decades of our lives.
Marlowe was with us for many joys – not least all four of our weddings (the world took a very long time to agree that our love was as worthy of respect as heterosexual relationships, we had to create our own ceremonies for half of them) – but she was also with us for the losses. The deaths of my mother and Shelley’s father and her sister. Both of my cancers. Shelley’s miscarriage and the subsequent try/fail/try/fail we both went through over several years to have children after chemo made me infertile. Marlowe was there for all the loss. And it was in the loss that she brought us joy.
Like many cats she was independent and great at looking after herself. Like fewer cats she was also a real home body, sweet-natured, playful, keen to stick with us, keen to be with us. The temperament of a little puppy with less chewing and indiscriminate peeing.
So yes, we were fortunate to have such a warm and soft creature in our home, an exceptionally pretty and gentle cat, but what I’m missing, what I know I will continue to miss, is what else she brought us.
The creatures that live alongside us in our homes are not human, this is obvious, except that we often anthropomorphise them, attribute feelings and senses to them (I have done so above), we personalise them, fit how they are to how we see them. When they do something ‘out of character’ it reminds us they are not us, they are other. And it’s a lovely thing to live with other, to have other alongside us, underlining similarities and difference.
They are a constant. Marlowe was not fussed if I was all dressed up for a fancy do or in my pjs or just back from hospital, scarred and bloody. She just wanted to sit with me. With the best possible intentions, when our friends are sick we wish them well, we wish them better, and sometimes that can be a burden on the ill, a pressure to ‘get better’ – physically and emotionally. Often the emotional, psychological side of recovery takes far longer. Marlowe did not wish me better, she did not need me to recover sooner than I could, physically or mentally, she simply wanted to be close. Quiet, close and waiting. That unconditional acceptance is a deep joy.
They are always here. I’m pretty sure that (in whatever way she perceived) Marlowe understood us to be her people, not herself as our cat. This home was her domain. I go away from home a great deal for work, Shelley does a lot of caring for her mother, Marlowe was a constant in our home when neither of us can be. She was always here to come home to. I was away in NYC doing Lifegame with Improbable in 2000 and Shelley came to visit for a bit. When she arrived home after a week away, Marlowe bounded up to her and jumped into her arms. Puppy-cat. She was indeed our (benevolent) familiar.
This loss, I think because it was not a person, has many echoes of our losses of people. Marlowe’s last hour or so reminded us of how it was when Shelley’s father was dying. When we stroked her fur I recalled the impossible pain my sister was in at her son’s funeral, stroking his hair and putting off the moment the lid went on the coffin. When we buried Marlowe it reminded me of the depth of my father’s grave, how far down into the earth they laid him. It has reminded us of our childlessness, of my illnesses. Digging a little and deep grave (city foxes need to be accounted for) made me think of my father burying our dog when I was young, his grief – and how unfair it was that those jobs were so often ‘dad jobs’.
There were also precious moments – holding Marlowe as she died, being at home with her, laying her in a shoe box to go in the ground, digging the earth together, our London soil that is rubble and clay, felt good. We were attending to mortality – hers and our own. It felt right.
And now she’s gone. And we are grieving. This little cat that never grew very big and filled up so much of our lives. Another joy has been the generosity of family and friends towards this loss, the kindness of the vet and the pet insurance people, the understanding of people at work. The acknowledgement of a genuine loss. Their knowledge of their own creature-loss. If any have thought ‘just a cat’, they have been kind enough not to suggest it. But I’m not sure many have, so many people in real life and on social media have been immensely generous. The best of losses also offer a chance for connection. I am grateful for the 20 years of connection with a precious creature. I am grateful for the kindness of others.